ARIZONA'S SECOND-CLASS VOTER
Attorney General Tom Horne came out with a staggering legal opinion last week: Arizona has two classes of voters.
One class is allowed to vote in every election. The second class is barred from voting in local and state elections, although it can vote in federal elections.
And it appears Secretary of State Ken Bennett, who harbors hopes of being Arizona's next governor, is going to put this system into operation in Arizona.
The two-tiered system is the unintended consequence of the relentless push to ensure that anyone who votes in Arizona elections is a U.S. citizen.
It's important, as we walk through this, that there is scant evidence that non-citizens are attempting to vote in our state's elections. The voter fraud cases that have come up tend to be part-time residents who try to vote both in Arizona and in their other home states.
But Arizona's Republicans have been preoccupied with the idea that undocumented migrants are entering the country with the intent to sway elections—and they will take whatever steps necessary to stop it from happening.
So Arizona voters passed a proposition in 2004 requiring proof of citizenship when registering to vote. That comes in conflict with the federal law that requires the states to allow people to register to vote when they get a driver's license, since the federal government has its own voter-registration form that does not require proof of citizenship.
This was the basis of a fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. Arizona wanted to stop using the federal form, but the Supreme Court ruled they had to accept it.
So now Horne has suggested that if people who use the federal form and do not provide sufficient information to prove that they are a U.S. citizen, then they should be barred from voting in state and local elections.
This may well be solid legal reasoning, but the practical effect is absurd. Most voters are simply not engaged in the process deeply enough to understand that if they register to vote with a certain form, they are disqualifying themselves from exercising the franchise. It's like saying that you need to say "Simon says" three times when registering to vote if you want to cast a ballot for governor.
So you'll have mass confusion among those who arrive at the ballot box and discover that even though they are legally registered to vote, they're not going to be allowed to cast a ballot for most of the races.
And then there's the political effect: Republicans across the nation are facing charges that they are engaging in voter suppression. In Arizona, that will be a key issue on the 2014 ballot thanks to a referendum on HB 2305, an overhaul of Arizona's election laws that is being challenged by voters (unless GOP operatives are successfully in knocking the referendum off the ballot). This effort by Horne and Bennett only amplifies those claims—and further tarnishes the GOP brand.
We're nearing the endgame in the Tucson City Council races as the ballots are set to be mailed out on Thursday, Oct. 17.
Two years ago, the city switched to an all-mail election, meaning that all voters—rather than just those who requested an early ballot—get their ballots in the mail. Those of you who still like to vote in person can still go to one of six polling places—one in each ward—that will be set up on Nov. 5, aka Election Day.
But everyone else will be mailing in their ballots—so beginning this week, the campaigns will turn up the gas in what has been, thus far, a largely unnoticed election.
Which brings us to the two propositions on this year's city ballot:
• Prop 401 is asking voters to approve a permanent increase in the city's spending limit. This is necessary because once upon a time, the state decided that cities should only be allowed to increase their spending by some magical formula some politicians dreamt up.
But the city of Tucson now forecasts that it will have revenues that, for a variety of reasons, will outstrip that spending limit. So in order to spend that extra money that the city brings in—on, for example, fixing streets or hiring more cops or whatever—the city needs approval from the voters to increase the spending limit by $50 million. A similar prop lost by a narrow margin four years ago, so the city is once again asking voters to approve it.
• With Prop 402, the city is asking voters to approve a new, 245-page general plan, aka Plan Tucson, for the city for the next decade. While the usual cranks are finding all sorts of secret plots in the fine print of the planning document—such as worries that it will lead to the closure of Davis-Monthan Air Force Base or implement U.N. Agenda 21 by supporting bike paths or otherwise sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids—the truth is a lot more mundane.
As part of the state's Growing Smarter program established more than a decade ago, cities and towns are required to have general plans that have to be updated every 10 years. While volunteers have diligently spent an astounding amount of time in public meetings developing the updates to the general plan over the last two years, it's really not that big a deal; we can't remember the last time we heard anyone cite the current plan when trying to score a rezoning or whatever.
And guess what happens if Prop 402 fails? It just means the old plan stays in place. Six of one, a half dozen of another.
At any rate, you can review Plan Tucson at cityoftucson.org, if reading through lengthy government planning documents is your thing.
Neither plan is particularly controversial and both deserve a yes vote, although the Pima County Republican Party hilariously managed to combine both props into a single question and send out this paranoid bulletin:
We have a $1 billion unfunded pension liability and public sector pensions must be reformed. The City Plan, which will be voted upon on the November 5th ballot, would give the City Council the right to increase the debt even further. The City Plan is wrong for Tucson; we would see Davis-Monthan Air Force Base headed for closure. The base generates $1.6 billion of revenue for this city. Don't Tucsonans understand that without a prosperous business community we can't have better roads, beautiful parks, even art projects? Many small businesses and merchants rely on the base for their livelihood. We need to support D-M, the local business community and welcome new business ventures to Tucson.
Where to begin? First of all, the so-called City Plan—aka Prop 402, aka Plan Tucson—has nothing to do with increasing debt. In fact, even the spending-limit prop—aka Prop 401—has nothing to do with debt; it has to do with increasing the city's spending limit, not the city's debt limit. And Prop 402 would not close down Davis-Monthan, unless you consider this policy a deathblow to the base: "Encourage the development of research, high tech, and other operations and facilities at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and Tucson International Airport that contribute to the expansion of Tucson's economic base while preserving the health, safety and welfare of residents, their homes, and their neighborhoods."
Go ahead and vote yes on these props: There's little chance they will make your life any worse and a relatively good chance they will make your life marginally better. (How's that for a ringing endorsement?)
Jim Nintzel hosts AZ Illustrated Politics, airing at 6:30 p.m. every Friday on PBS 6. The program repeats on 12:30 a.m. Saturday. This week's program features a forum with Ward 5 Councilman Richard Fimbres and his Republican challenger, Mike Polak.